This is where we should see the difference between a first-year starting quarterback who is a senior and one who is a freshman or sophomore.
Senior quarterback Brian Hampton will be starting his first game, but I believe Navy is in good hands. Hampton has been in the offense for four years. He must know the right reads and keys by now. I believe he will get Navy into the right formations, call good audibles and attack the defense where it is vulnerable.
East Carolina gave up 217 rushing yards per game last season, which is a lot. What is of at least equal importance, if not more, is that they will be starting three new linebackers on Saturday.
It’s the new linebackers that Navy almost certainly will look to exploit. The counter option — or twirl option, in Navy’s parlance — will be important because it gets the linebackers moving one way, and the play goes to the other. As the linebackers try to change direction to keep up, a blocker is there to greet them. (It is meant to be confusing to inexperienced linebackers and to get athletic linebackers leaning the wrong way.)
The plays where the slot goes in motion and receives a toss also will be big (remember Whittaker against Stanford). Again, it’s a read. If the linebackers do a pre-snap shift and move in the direction of the slot back, usually the play changes automatically into a fullback dive. If the linebackers don’t shift, it’s a toss.
Keep an eye on which wide receivers are in the game. If it’s the bigger wide receivers, expect some twirl option, since the receivers will be called upon to block either a linebacker or a defensive end.
But if it’s either Goss or Kaipo at receiver, a trick play may be forthcoming. Navy has used backup quarterbacks as wide receivers to great effect under Paul Johnson.
Remember Andy Michalowicz throwing a 55-yard touchdown pass, I think to Eric Roberts, against Rutgers in 2003. Also J.P. Blecksmith, God rest his soul, throwing a 79-yard pass down to the one-inch line against Northwestern in 2002. It would have been a touchdown except Chandler Sims got caught from behind.
I have a feeling East Carolina’s passing offense will feed into Navy’s bend-but-don’t-break defense. I don’t think the Pirates throw downfield a ton. They are one of those teams where the completion percentage is high but there’s not a ton of yards.
Duke used a similar attack, throwing a lot of underneath stuff, in the opener two years ago. Navy handled it fine. Maryland did the same last year, and really the Mids handled that, too, except for the one fourth-down play on the Terps’ final drive.
Bottom Line: Hampton needs to make some plays. Polanco broke open the 2004 opener against Duke with that long touchdown pass to Tomlinson just before halftime. Owens missing so much time against Maryland in the opener last year really hurt at the time, though it gave Hampton some good experience.
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